The Darkness Before Resurrection

February was mercifully short this year; I was thankful it only had 28 days. Winter is a struggle for this Dubai girl, and the last few years March has felt like the sun coming out. Whether or not the sun actually does shine, the rise in temperature, bulbs poking up, and hope of real Spring are invigorating.

But this year, the first third of March meant more snow. More cold when I wanted to be out on long walks. More scraping snow off of the car. More bundling up the girls before heading outside on days deemed warm enough.

The letdown of snow when it seemed Spring was around the corner coincided with the beginning of Lent. All I knew of Lent as a child was that my grandmother gave up chocolate. I still have yet to ever “give anything up” for Lent – because of Jesus’ words to the disciples about not fasting when the Bridegroom is there (Mark 2:18-20), it does seem odd to me to fast in the part of the church calendar that focuses on His earthly ministry, but I also understand its focus and benefits. However, the last few years have sought to focus my thoughts on Jesus’ life and ministry, with special focus during Holy Week. I didn’t have any specific plans going into it this year, but my reaction to snow in March was tempered by remembrance of thousands of years of longing for redemption.

Hope given via God’s covenants was crushed or delayed by human failure. And then at last, in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, a promise of new hearts, a foretold New Covenant that would reach to the root problem. Hope for truly knowing the Lord. Hope for a return to the way things were supposed to be.

And then?
Not two more weeks of snow, but four hundred years of silence. Four hundred years of God saying nothing. Four hundred years of waiting in a land barely a shadow of its former glory.
When God finally does start moving again, it isn’t in the expected way. Unexpected babies. A man eating locusts and honey. Another Man claiming to be God and Messiah yet who says He will die, yet He does the miracles associated with the foretold Messiah. A Kingdom coming not with power but growing slowly like a mustard seed.

A man sobbing alone in a garden.
Disciples fleeing in fear.
Close friend’s denial.
A crown of thorns.
A cross.

A God who joins our suffering and experiences far worse than we ever will.

In our place in redemptive history, we are on the other side of Good Friday. We know what happens. We know the hope of the Resurrection. We know that Jesus conquered death, that Jesus paid the full price for our sin, that Jesus opened the way for full, confident access to God. We know that in Heaven there will be no more tears and all our sufferings here are preparing us for an eternal weight of glory. Every sorrow we have here will be overcome.

But here and now, it hurts.
We have hope in the “already” but the tension of the “not yet” is at times painfully dark. We know the end of redemptive history, but we are not yet there.
Neither are we alone.
“The sun may not rise for a few hours yet. But here amid the waiting hours, the sorrowing have a Savior” (Zack Eswine, Spurgeon’s Sorrows).

He intercedes. He knows our suffering. He struggled like we do.

Providentially, I was reading Cameron Cole’s book Therefore I Have Hope during Lent. His three-year-old son unexpectedly passed away. His “worst” happened. Cole is honest about the pain and suffering, the waiting in the darkness. Yet he is also supernaturally aware of the hope of resurrection.
The already, but not yet.

Even while we rejoice in the Resurrection, we suffer here where we are. The resurrection does not negate that. The resurrection does not mean we glibly skip over pain.
But the resurrection of Jesus Christ does mean that we have an unshakable comfort in the midst of our pain. It means complete forgiveness of sins. It means a great High Priest who sympathizes with our weaknesses. It means that one day this will all be over. It means we have the help of the Holy Spirit. It means the Father loves us with lavish, steadfast love. It means the One from whom we should expect nothing has given us everything, has freely given us what we were made for – to know Him.

To reach resurrection, we first participate with Him in His suffering, the deaths of our sin natures and wasting away of our physical bodies and those of our loved ones. Yet we do this knowing one day comes our resurrection, the fullness of life forever in the presence of God our Father with Christ our Bridegroom, purchased for us by His death and resurrection (Philippians 3:7-11).
And so we press on. Identifying with Him in His death as we suffer here, yet rejoicing this Resurrection Sunday, and every day, because He has guaranteed its end and our resurrection by His own, to the praise of His glorious grace – so much more glorious than the end of snowy weather.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”
– 2 Corinthians 4:7-10

March 2019

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I was tired and the girls were antsy so we went to Burger King and ordered orange juice and they played for a while while I read. S was very helpful to E, who couldn’t climb up everything by herself, but S was willing to help (more willing than E was to be helped).

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Snow in March is a sad day.

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I left my bread to rise at 7 PM and forgot about it until 11 PM when I couldn’t fall asleep. I popped it in the fridge overnight and it turned out alright but was definitely overproofed!

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The just-for-fun “gender reveal” my moms group has whenever someone announces a pregnancy says boy. 😉

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S’s love for drawing has been expanding beyond paper… something we’ve had to take away pencils for a number of times.

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I think I’ve mentioned before that we’ve had a number of date nights flop for various reasons, but this was a great one – we went to the local pie restaurant and had some very delicious sweet and savory pies, and then went to the local game store for a game night – and found a game we really liked, called Bunny Kingdom. We started it because it seemed so ridiculous but it was really fun!

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Our Pi day celebrations were belated this year (do they really even count on a different day? But any excuse to make pie!). These pies tasted absolutely delicious but wouldn’t win any points for looks. I had massive issues with my crust but the flake was beautiful in the end.
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memorization// E‘re Yet the Dawn

favorite recipes// troubleshooting bad bread // sourdough puff pancake // chicken sweet potato stew (I used quinoa) // bread scoring techniques (that I have yet to get to work) // cheesy tandoori chicken hand pies (this is what I used for Pi day, but with regular crusts) // potato farls (for St. Patrick’s Day) // deep dish pizza // whole wheat banana bread (I used applesauce instead of syrup) // slowcooker chicken taco bowls // buckwheat pudding (use less milk, and I used more cocoa and no espresso powder) // quick flatbread // sweet potato soup with feta and za’atar oil (added way more spices to the soup; see the comments) //

best of online// survivors in a great war (Syrian Christians) // discipling kids is a long game of small interactions // Are Sundays good for babies? // signposts for reading // friends are for the darkness: how to care for the depressed // hormones and repentance // 10 Things women married to pastors want you to know // why it makes sense to persevere in prayer // oh death, where is your sting? // how do I show kindness to my children and expect them to obey? // when you can’t escape busyness //

reading of late// Therefore I Have Hope (Cole) // Howl’s Moving Castle (Jones) // Kiss the Wave (Furman) // For the Love of God’s Word (Koestenberger and Paterson) // Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church (Lawrence) // New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (ed. Rosner, Alexander, Goldsworthy, Carson) – I didn’t read the whole thing but did read a significant amount from it) // a number of these books were just finished in April but read throughout the semester.

thinking about// “We believe something will restore our souls more than prayer.” (IE, Facebook…) // if anything happens to them, He will care for me. If anything happens to me, He will care for them //

what brings joy// long sunshiney walks // bagel treats // Sleepy E snuggles // singing tenor

writing// 10 page papers for class! I’ve been enjoying it, though.

Round 3…

I think most of my readers already know, but before I start assuming everyone does…

Baby #3 is coming in early October!

Everyone is very excited. E connects the baby with cake, because the marker we’ve given them is “after E’s birthday,” but even still the girls ask frequently when the baby will come out.

I am generally feeling well, just tired. I do plan on doing trimester updates again this time and am actually working on a hefty pregnancy resource and to-do list that I’ll probably share at some point.

Shepherding His Sheep

Hagar, lonely and abandoned in the wilderness, declares that God is “a God who sees” (Genesis 16:13). In Jesus’ interactions with women (particularly John 4, John 8, and Mark 10), we see that Jesus is this God who sees. He sees the women who are hidden and shunned, who people do not want to be around because they are unlovely. He sees the women who others see as pawns. He sees the women as valuable, made in the image of God, full persons, not second-class citizens. And when He sees them, He sees beyond what they and others perceive as their needs, observing the root of their pain. The pain in these women’s lives was more than meets the eye. But Jesus saw what it truly was, and Jesus met their physical and spiritual needs. In response to the ways men and women have twisted the ways we reflect His image in gender differences, Jesus shows us how it should be: how a man should treat a woman and the preciousness of a woman’s body and soul. Jesus’ interactions with women – not certain leaders, churches, or biblical narratives about fallen men – are our standard.

How does Jesus’ treatment of women affect how we shepherd women (and anyone)?
First, shepherds must look and listen for women in pain. They may not be as clearly revealed as the woman in John 8, but they are their and their lives are crying out for help. Once noticed, these women need assurance that their needs are seen and their pain is heard.
Second, shepherds must perceive what the woman’s true pain is. A woman’s behaviors may cause others to not like her, but this points to an underlying problem. For the woman with the discharge of blood, the woman at the well, and the woman caught in adultery, there was a need that was clearly seen but was not the root of their pain. If the root is not addressed, the pain will not stop.
Third, shepherds must gently walk with the woman to reveal and heal the root of her pain. This is not pointing fingers or saying “this is what is wrong and here is how to fix it.” Jesus asked questions, offered hope, and showed His Father to the women He shepherded.
In all, shepherds must address the physical and spiritual components of women’s pain. While the root may be different, often the surface level layers of pain must be healed or at least bandaged before a woman is able to receive help on deeper levels.

Women don’t need new, innovative means of being reached. They need the mentoring, discipling, and counseling a shepherd can offer when they compassionately provide “The comfort and understanding that fosters healing and growth” (Shepherding a Woman’s Heart, Bev Hislop, 31). Ezekiel 34 and 1 Thessalonians help us understand what that looks like.

Ezekiel 34 offers insight into what it means to be a good shepherd – a standard Jesus fulfilled as he interacted with women in counter-cultural ways. Before the positive description, poor shepherds are condemned. The sin that leads to all the others is their desire to use the sheep for their own gain without concern for the sheep: dominating with force and severity, leaving sheep to wander vulnerably, fleeing in danger. On the other hand, the good shepherd seeks after wayward sheep, delivers those being oppressed, strengthens and heals the broken. The shepherd (in this case Jesus, but the standard for all of us) nourishes and protects the sheep even at great cost to himself. He does this not to make himself look good, but so that the sheep will know it is the Lord who has delivered them.
The gospels give us an example of what caring for women in pain looks like. Ezekiel 34 further enhances this with character traits of good and bad shepherds.

Finally, the book of 1 Thessalonians gives us a model for shepherding.
Paul explains how he proclaimed God’s Word to please God, not men (2:4-8). This is the first step in discipling and shepherding – without God’s Word, particularly the gospel, there can be no real healing or change.
But how this Word is proclaimed is crucial. Paul describes his ministry in terms of a nursing mother (2:7): gentle, loving, and in a way that deeply shared life. Paul gives more details into this kind of love and relationship in chapter 1 – in writing this I am reminded of the model for community put forth by the Trinity.
Paul also acts as a father (2:11-12): encouraging, exhorting, “charging how to walk” as he teaches them the ways of THE Father in chapters 4 and 5.

As we see in 1 Thessalonians, Paul’s goal in shepherding like this is disciples who hope in Christ even in affliction, are grounded in truth, and love one another (ch. 4-5). They admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, and are patient with them all – similar to what Paul does in his ministry (5:14-15). This ministry reproduces as the children imitate the “father”/Father.

Shepherding is not about having the most or cleanest sheep. It is not about having the best programs. It is about being committed to bringing them to a God who sees and binds up, remaking us into His image.

Personalized Hope for Postpartum Depression

Sometimes when friends and mentors offered me hope in the midst of PPD, it only made me feel more hopeless. Most of the time, this was when I knew the truth of their counsel but could not understand how it made a difference. I knew the gospel and I knew about the character of God and I knew it was supposed to give me hope. But at the darkest times, it didn’t. And even in better times, that future, eternal hope offered light in the pit but didn’t help me climb out of it. As a result, I then feared giving people those kinds of generalized, trite answers.

What was the difference between those unhelpful comments and the ones that really made a difference?
The kind of hope a woman with PPD needs is similar to the kind of hope everyone in going through life on this earth needs: Personalized, timely application of the gospel and character of God to her current situation. The degree to which help fit this criteria is what separated the true from the helpful from the vital in my healing from PPD.

What does personalized, timely application of God and the gospel to a current situation mean?

The gospel is true, as is what we know of the character of God, but a general reminder of it and declaration that this means I don’t have to be depressed or feel guilty wasn’t what I needed. I knew that, but depression made it feel empty. I had the big picture, but could not apply it to my situation. I “knew” what Christ had done for me, I “knew” God loved me, I “knew” I was secure in Him and had hope for eternal life with Him. But functionally I was forgetting.

I needed the gospel to be personalized and applied to my current situation. I needed someone to step in and walk me through my feelings in a way that revealed where the disconnect between truth and experience was. One woman asked me “what’s your self-talk?” and that question changed a lot, because not only did we process my feelings then and there, but that question became a tool for me to see not what I “knew” about the gospel, but what I was feeling. I could then use those findings to renew my mind and focus on the truth.
This is not to say that we should skip the “basic” aspects of how salvation from sin and the hope of being with God in heaven gives us hope in our everyday struggles, or how the character of our good, sovereign, and kind heavenly Father shows us that we can trust Him in the darkest times. I needed to hear those reminders as someone who had grown up in the church, and newer believers will also need it. But it needs to be applied, and in that the tools need to be given so that she can begin to apply those truths to herself. Help her connect the dots.

It feels imbalanced, but she needs something specific, not general. Which means she needs YOU to slow down and really understand where she is at so you can help her in her situation. For example, before you suggest something like changing her diet or reading her Bible or memorizing certain verses, ask her what she is already doing. Ask her what the specific areas she struggles with are. Ask her what she is thinking and feeling. Find out what the root of her pain is before you offer medicine (but do address the bleeding right away!). Don’t assume you know, especially if you have been through PPD or something similar. This also applies to how you apply God and the gospel to her situation. She may have the big picture and not be able to apply it to herself, or she may need both the big picture and its implications for her life. If you assume she doesn’t have the big picture when she does, it may feel to her that you are condescending. Either way, invite her into The Story not as an onlooker, but as a part of it. Her story feels hopeless, but she is part of a bigger, better story, the story of redemption.*

Yet even as I write this, I know that the less-helpful-help I received may have been personalized application of the gospel to my current situation but that the depression had so blinded me that I could not connect with it. Which is why another adjective is needed: timely. All of the hope I was offered was true. But there were times I was more ready to hear it than others. As a counselor or friend to a woman with PPD, you may not be able to tell when those times are. You will have to keep offering her hope again and again, all the while being sensitive to how it is affecting her and if it is doing her more harm than good when she can’t connect with it and you need to change strategies.

The gospel is true, and it and the character of God properly applied are what we all need most in our struggles in a fallen world. They are so valuable that it is well worth the time of making sure they are applied in a personalized, timely way.

*Sara Groves’ CD “Add to the Beauty” was very helpful for me here.

What Does it Mean to be a Disciple?

One of my classes during the fall semester was on discipleship and evangelism. I confess I wasn’t thrilled about the class, since I had previously read a number of the books and both were topics that had frequently been addressed in Sunday school classes and seminars I had attended. But the personal interaction and assignments made it very helpful, and reading Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship” greatly influenced my view of what it means to be a disciple.

If a disciple is “one who accepts and assists in the spreading the doctrines of another,” then discipleship would be the lifestyle of a disciple and teaching others how to be a follower of a certain other. In the case of Christianity, this would mean discipleship is a lifestyle of following the teaching of Jesus, and thus become like Him, even as we teach others to do the same. Being a disciple of Christ isn’t simply reciting a creed; this would not require trust in the leader (Coleman, 51-52). Jesus “did not urge his disciples to commit their lives to a doctrine, but to a person who was the doctrine” (Coleman, 56). Thus, true discipleship requires of the disciple “absolute obedience to the Master’s will, even as it meant complete abandonment of their own” (Coleman, 59). Dietrich Bonhoeffer echoes this idea when he says, “Discipleship betokened the separation of the disciples from all their old ties, and an exclusive adherence to Jesus Christ” (Bonhoeffer, 203). This means that the Christian “belongs to Christ alone, and his relationship with the world is mediated through Him” (Bonhoeffer, 257). That is what it means to be a disciple.

Discipleship, then, would be living out this abandonment to Christ in one’s own life and teaching others to do the same. Despite popular opinion, this is not primarily done through large events and formalized programs. Coleman writes, “One cannot transform the world except as individuals in the world are transformed, and individuals cannot be changed except as they are molded in the hands of the Master” (Coleman, 30). The best model for discipleship is Jesus’ own: “life-schooling” a select few “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up,” (Deut. 6:7). This means bringing others to see the Father and thus become more like Him, through prayer, life in the church, and the study and application of scripture to personal life, instilling in them a greater love and worship of God that allows them to turn from all earthly ties and be bound to Christ alone” (Bonhoeffer, 68). Just as following Christ in your own life requires great cost, so making disciples is also costly. This cost is not that we are purchasing our discipleship, but proving the worth of the One we follow by abandoning our own will for His. But the cost is worth it, and near the end of his book Bonhoeffer offers encouragement:

“The goal is to become ‘as Christ.’ Christ’s followers always have his image before their eyes, and in its light all other images are screened from their sight. It penetrates into the depths of their being, fills them, and makes them more and more like their Master. The image of Jesus Christ impresses itself in daily communion on the image of the disciple. No follower of Jesus can contemplate his image in a spirit of cold detachment. That image has the power to transform our lives, and if we surrender ourselves utterly to him, we cannot help bearing his image ourselves. We become the sons of God, we stand side by side with Christ, our unseen Brother, bearing like him the image of God.” (Bonhoeffer, 337)

“Because He really lives his life in us, we too can… it is only because he became like us that we can become like him. It is only because we are identified with him that we can become like him. By being transformed into his image, we are enabled to model our lives on his. Now at least deeds are performed and life is lived in single-minded discipleship in the image of Christ and his words find unquestioning obedience. We pay no attention to our own lives or the new image which we bear, for then we should at once have forfeited it, since it is only to serve as a mirror for the image of Christ on whom our gaze is fixed. The disciple looks solely at his Master. But when a man follows Jesus Christ and bears the image of the incarnate, crucified, and risen Lord, when he has become the image of God, we may at last say that he has been called to be the ‘imitator of God.’ The follower of Jesus is the imitator of God.” (Bonhoeffer, 344)

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, The Cost of Discipleship, The Macmillan Company, USA, 1969
Coleman, Robert E., The Master Plan of Evangelism, Fleming H. Revell, Grand Rapids, MI. 1993.

Note on Bonhoeffer: he has much good to offer in The Cost of Discipleship, despite being not fully orthodox in his theology. There is a sense of this in Cost of Discipleship but there were only a few times I could actually put my finger on something that was off.

February 2019

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Lots of snow this month! It was never very much (this was the most we had) but it happened frequently.

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I finished the quilt I was making for my friend… and remembered why I hadn’t quilted in so long. I love it and it’s rewarding, but doing it alone is lonely. But it was fun to think about how many quilts Hannah and I had made together and now I was making one for her baby, and some of the fabric was even the same as in the first quilt we made together!

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The first snow we had was very powdery and this was the best I could do… Ezra later built a bigger one when it snowed later on.

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I love soft pretzels and we had a lot of fun making them.

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Some of S’s naptime artwork.

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Ezra’s friend came to visit from the East Coast and we drove a bit to take him hiking.

memorization// Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting

favorite recipes// sourdough pancakes (I thin the initial batter a little more or adding eggs in the morning can be a nightmare) // no bake cookies // beet oatmeal chocolate chip (breakfast) cookies // brownie batter breakfast bake (S keeps asking for this again!) // sourdough soft pretzels //

best of online// one family’s morning time // ***My Mother Practiced the Piano (so so good about the value of our kids seeing us do things!) // Five Reasons God Made You a Mother // Jesus, See The Traveler (Sara Groves song) // family history // Love Made Us: Trinitarian love in Creation // Mommy Wars are Spirit Wars (Genesis 3:15, anyone? Also, this is for EVERY woman) // joining the chorus: global persecution // how to fight anger in motherhood // music and your core //

reading of late// Covenant (Schreiner) // Salt Fat Acid Heat (Nosrat) // Hannah Coulter (Berry) // The Lifter of My Head (McRoberts) // finished Because He Loves Me (Fitzpatrick) // The Long Fall (Wilcock) // This Isn’t What I Expected (Kleiman) //

what brings joy// sunshine // ballet storytimes // music // Les Miserables // good books

The Munchkins// S loves to “play school” with E and they frequently disappear into our room to sing and tell stories. They are both obsessed with wearing swimsuits around the house.